Just before graduating ArtCenter, in a graduation review I was asked where I saw myself in five to 10 years. My answer was that I wanted to live in the mountains of Georgia, take pictures, and have a garden where I could grow flowers. The person interviewing me said that it sounded like I wanted to be retired.
The thing is, that’s more or less what my life is now – and I’m not retired! I grow flowers to cut them, take them to my mother, friends, or strangers. I live with my husband and a great dog and I value my privacy. It’s been 20 years since I graduated ArtCenter, and in some ways, I’ve achieved my dream of a slower, gentler pace of life.
My grandparents were small-town folks who lived in the mountains of northeastern Georgia. I saw things on car rides with them that sparked my imagination, things like flea markets and fruit stands. Growing up, I was attracted to tacky objects, like the plastic flowers that are sold at flea markets. There is a fading singularity to small-town America that I cherish. I live for the local general stores, hardware stores, and roadside stands where you can stumble upon forgotten treasures.
I grew up in Atlanta, a good distance away from where I currently reside. One of my high school art teachers showed me an ArtCenter catalogue. He said that if I was really talented, and had a lot of money, I could go there. I had the talent, but not the money. When I eventually moved to Pasadena to start taking ArtCenter classes, I was still young enough to be in high school.
My ArtCenter experience was largely a positive one, not that I didn’t struggle. I was broke much of the time and had no car. I used to walk from ArtCenter’s Hillside Campus to Glendale if I couldn’t get a ride. My first three terms in the Photography department, I kept getting assignments that, to my young, idealistic mind, seemed too technical. I had no interest in focusing the camera or using a light meter just to get a good grade. I was waiting for something poetic to happen. After all, who needs a perfect exposure?
ArtCenter taught me poetry with precision. I remember spending three days working on a black and white assignment. For a grade, the most you could get was four points. I received zero. I told the professor I might as well have hung out by the pool all weekend if I was going to get zero points. The professor told me that if I had exercised that option, I would have failed his class. Right then and there, I learned a valuable lesson: you can utilize all your resources, only to create something that fails, and you still have to pick yourself up and try again.
I recall being in the black and white lab one day, washing negatives. I was venting to a friend, telling them that I was tired of black and white technical assignments. My friend urged me to wait. Next semester, I would be able to begin shooting and printing color. I ended up taking a class with the great Robert Engle, who was my guru when it came to color. Experiences like this are a valuable reminder that graduating from ArtCenter is something of which to be proud.
I now live in a state burdened with complications having to do with history and race. Still, there is much beauty here. I see beauty in things like hand-painted signs, and I catch glimpses of everyday magic outside my passing car window. I don’t have to search for it, really. It’s all there. One just has to pay attention.
Bob Engle and others at ArtCenter taught me the magic of color. Just when I was beginning to feel disenchanted about my chosen medium, the sense of childlike, joyous discovery came rushing back to me. Bob was a kind, loving human being, and I miss him dearly. He nurtured something in me – in all of us, really. He taught us to seek out magic. I see that magic and color still, everywhere I look, in the hand-painted signs, in the plastic flowers, in the smiles of ordinary people I encounter.
The greatest joy I know is when a regular, non-artist person wants to buy a print of mine. Generally, it’s because it reminds them of something from home. We’re all seeking that piece of home, and I am happy to provide just that. My overhead and stress levels are low, and my sense of personal worth is never going to come from how much money I make.
At ArtCenter, I felt like an underdog. In many ways, it was one of the greatest struggles of my life. I was constantly asking myself, “am I good enough?” But I was. I am.
BFA 97 Photography
Professional Photographer (Clients include The New York Times, Salesforce, CNN, Outside Magazine, and more)
Author of Rejoice (2019)